After Bulawayo and Masvingo, we were pretty discouraged. Great Zimbabwe had been a nice respite, but it wasn’t enough to completely reenergize us. We set our sights on Lake Malawi and proceeded to bus ourselves across three African capitals in three days.
I’m sure that each of the three capitals (Harare, Lusaka, and Lilongwe) has its own unique character and gems that we didn’t discover during our abbreviated visits; alas, our spirits were so trampled from the rugged travel and the cold that we used the cities as merely convenient stopping points along our route to Lake Malawi. Our journey toward the lake was long and frequently frustrating, but, as a wise man told us at the start of our African adventure, you just have to see the humor in such things – and then laugh out loud at them.
I have always been captivated by the remnants of ancient civilizations (hey, my BA is in Classical Civilizations), and the sole reason I had endured our trek from Bulawayo to Masvingo was the prospect of seeing Great Zimbabwe. The ruined city, constructed between the 1100 and 1450 AD, is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and the namesake of the modern nation of Zimbabwe.
Bulawayo nearly broke me. I very much wanted to make a beeline for the rumored warm tranquility of Lake Malawi, but we couldn’t leave Zimbabwe without first seeing ruins at Great Zimbabwe. Alas, when we began looking at traveling to Masvingo (the closest town to Great Zimbabwe), we realized that things were going to get worse before they got better…
The minibus to Masvingo that we boarded in Bulawayo was crowded and blasting exceptionally loud music, but not unreasonably uncomfortable, and so we began the journey feeling cautiously optimistic.
Our train from Victoria Falls arrived in Bulawayo around mid-morning. After quickly locating a taxi to take us Burke’s Paradise, an inexpensive backpacker place on the outskirts of town, we decided to take it easy that morning and rest after our overnight travels.
Unfortunately, we could not lounge around for too long because Burke’s is a self-catering operation. Thanks to an email from the owner, we knew about this prior to arrival, but we had lacked the energy to stop at the Food Lover’s Market (the Southern African answer to Whole Foods) that we had spotted during our morning taxi ride from the train station to Burke’s. So, after a quick nap, we trekked back to town in one of the shared minibus taxis that ply Bulawayo’s main roads. We ate lunch in the Food Lover’s Market’s enclosed cafe and picked up some supplies to make dinner.
We returned to Burke’s to find that the power had gone out. At first, we were not concerned. Rolling blackouts had been a somewhat common occurrence during our travels across Southern Africa. Unlike those previous circumstances, this power outage persisted for several hours. We watched the sun set, and then sat in the dark, wondering how we would cook dinner – candlelight dining is lovely, candlelight cooking is less fun. Thankfully, the power came back just before we wandered into the shared kitchen to begin chopping up our vegetables. Continue reading Hitting a Wall in Bulawayo→
One of the nicest parts of our adventure across Africa is that it largely lacks any scheduled itinerary, providing us with the luxury of making many of our travel decisions on a rolling basis. Although our journey is only loosely mapped out, we have generally already determined how, and approximately when, we will leave a given location before we arrive. More than anything else, this is simply an effort to keep from inadvertently marooning ourselves anywhere longer than desired.
Consequently, I had been trying to determine the best method for continuing our travels into Zimbabwe well before we arrived in Victoria Falls. Unless you have your own wheels, overland travel in most parts of Africa generally means long bus rides. Because of this, I was especially intrigued to read in our guidebook that Zimbabwe had a functioning passenger rail system that called upon destinations we wanted to visit. That such large-scale, state infrastructure would still be in operation, however, seemed implausible given the economic collapse that had befallen the country just a few years prior. Nonetheless, a quick check of Seat 611 confirmed that Zimbabwean trains were still running – or, at least they were as of June 2013, the date of the site’s most recently posted travel report. In a manner that would be frustratingly rare for the rest of our travels across Zimbabwe, the information we found on online was accurate, detailed, and current.
Victoria Falls, one of the world’s largest sheets of continuously falling water, is one of Africa’s most well known attractions. The Zambezi River plummets over the falls between Zambia and Zimbabwe to the tune of 500 million liters of water per minute during the wet season.1 The great debate is whether the falls are best viewed from Zambia or Zimbabwe – we visited both sides for maximum consideration.